It’s finally time for football to return to IU.
Once again, IU fell one game short of bowl eligibility as the Hoosiers ended their 2018 campaign with a 5-7 record and only managed two wins in the Big Ten. IU now looks to get off on the right foot against Ball State University as they strive to become eligible for a bowl for the first time since 2016.
IU kicks off its 135th season of football Saturday against Ball State in Lucas Oil Stadium. After losing three straight meetings to Ball State in 2008, 2011 and 2012, IU has won the last two matchups in 2016 and 2018 by a combined 38 points. The last time the two teams met at Lucas Oil Stadium was in 2011, where Ball State took the win 27-20.
Here are three things to know about the Cardinals as the Hoosiers go for their third straight win in the series.
The Cardinals are an experienced team.
Ball State comes into the season returning 20 starters from last season and has a veteran core with 41 upperclassmen on their roster.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Cardinals bring back eight starters, including the entire offensive line who have a combined 98 career starts. Included in the returners is senior Andrew Poenitsch, who was named to the preseason Rimington Trophy watch list for the most outstanding center.
“It'll be a challenge,” IU Head Coach Tom Allen said. “We got a lot of young guys, new faces and new opportunities, but yeah, that's where the game is won and lost is up front.”
On defense, Ball State is just as experienced, bringing back nine starters from last season. Seniors Ray Wilborn and Jacob White, alongside juniors Jaylin Thomas, Christian Albright, and Bryce Cosby all started at least eight games for the Cardinals last season.
That core of five upperclassmen accounted for 37.8% of Ball State's tackles last season and half of the Cardinals’ interceptions.
Ray Wilborn has the potential to be a real problem.
Last season, Wilborn was one of the most productive players on the Ball State defense. The Garden City Community College transfer had an instant effect for the Cardinals as he quickly asserted himself in the linebacker group, starting all 12 games.
Wilborn led the way for the Ball State defense with a team high of 83 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions. He also finished second on the team in both sacks and forced fumbles with two apiece. Wilborn looks to take another step in his junior season for Ball State as he will attempt to disrupt the revamped Hoosier offense.
With IU’s offensive line giving up the 90 most sacks per game and also the 81 most tackles for loss, Wilborn’s size and speed on defense may prove to be a tough challenge for the Hoosiers as they try to keep him out of their backfield.
Ball State has a new gunslinger.
With Riley Neal transferring to Vanderbilt, there was a hole at quarterback that was quickly filled by junior Drew Plitt.
Plitt played in eight games last season and took the reins as the starter for the final three games of last season following an injury to Neal.
During his limited action, Plitt threw for 1,008 yards, six touchdowns and eight interceptions last season and was awarded the Ball State Ray Louthen Award as the most improved player. The Loveland, Ohio, native is looking to shine in the spotlight in his first year as the starter and improve upon an up-and-down sophomore season.
IU will need to prove they have taken a step forward from last season, or else a veteran Ball State team will have an opportunity to spoil the Hoosiers' opening weekend.
“Our word for this week is prove,” Allen said. “We've had a long time to let this fester and let our guys really, really work hard to create change in this program, both in recruiting and now player development. Now, we get a chance to go out there and prove it on the field.”
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